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Digital leadership is key to rewiring the way local government works


Matt Prosser, Chief Executive, Dorset Councils Partnership, is guiding the Eduserv Executive Briefing Programme on our ‘Skills for digital change’ research as part of his role on the programme’s Steering Group. This month Matt shared his thought on digital leadership in The MJ.

Matt Prosser“In the government’s recently published transformation strategy, one of the notable elements was its focus on digital skills and collaboration.

Yes, technology and data are critical for effective government and service delivery in a digital age.

But as the new strategy acknowledges, without widely building the capability among people to leverage those things effectively, then we have little hope of achieving the “more-for-less” promise that technology offers us. One of the more eye-catching measures announced was the investment in training 3,000 civil servants in digital skills.

As local government goes through its own process of technologically-driven change, the message that people are what will drive the success of digital services must be at the heart of our planning and thinking – if it isn’t already.

Channel shift – from face-to-face or even phone-based delivery of services and information – is an imperative in our sector if we are to get to a place where the cost of service delivery is anywhere near the budgets we have available.

But unless we have people who can use the elegantly designed digital services and automated systems which will run our future services, we will not see the return on our investment we need.

For this, we need to achieve a wholesale change in our attitudes to technology from top to bottom of our organisations.

Today, it is not unusual for teams and managers to think about technology as a job for someone else and digital change something which is ‘done to them’ by IT, perhaps in cahoots with HR.

If we want to succeed in the future, this isn’t good enough. If we are really serious about getting the citizens who use our services to adopt digital channels as a first choice, then we need the people who are dealing with them buy into their power so they can explain the benefits rather than simply signpost them to a website, twitter feed or other digital tool.

In many organisations, this requires a fundamental shift to a mindset which sees digital as part of the job. This isn’t about being the most tech-savvy employee, the most sophisticated user of social media or programming fiend. It’s about an appreciation of the power of the digital channels we have in place, how they work and why they offer a better solution to our customers.

There was a time when people would steer clear away from doing their own word-processing, avoid managing their own email and leave it to other people to tell them how social media works. That was the old world. Today, we need everyone from leaders to managers and their teams to appreciate that digital knowledge is part of the core skills we need from a public servant – appropriate, of course, to the nature of their job.

As leaders we have a big task on our hands in changing attitudes. We have to model the behaviours we expect from our employees – these are simple things like showing we know what twitter is, using the internal yammer platform and putting other tools like skype into play in our day-to-day work.

By doing this we can start to make the case that it is no more acceptable for our managers to say ‘they don’t understand digital’ as it is to profess a lack of understanding of budgeting.

From this foundation, we can then set about the task of closing down digital knowledge gaps and changing behaviour so that the experience of people who deal with our organisations is a good one and the advocacy of digital services more powerful.”

Matt Prosser, Chief Executive- Dorset Councils Partnership
Twitter: @mattprosserceo

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About Natasha Gwilliam

Natasha runs Eduserv's Local Government Executive Briefing programme. Working closely with Jos Creese, Principal Analyst, and the steering group of senior local government leaders, she aims to increase sector-wide understanding of the benefits of cloud computing and broader digital initiatives. This includes working on research reports, conducting interviews, putting together events and engaging with industry figures at events and through social media. Before Eduserv, she spent 14 years working for international publishing and events businesses. First in the financial sector with 9 years at Euromoney, including a two year secondment in Hong Kong, and more recently 5 years in digital, delivering conference agendas on topics such as app development, enterprise mobility, cloud, and digital marketing.